Sunday, October 04, 2015

Getting Back into Blogging

I received an email this week from a fellow blogger asking if I had quit blogging. My original plan was to take a week off. Somehow that week turned into two and the next thing I know I hadn’t blogged since August. To get back into the swing of things I’ve decided to provide an update. Here is my current status:


I am finally getting caught up at after an employee in my department resigned earlier this year. We were both working 40+ hours per week, so after she left my workload became overwhelming as I attempted to cover both positions. Initially, we brought in a temp who did not work out and were disappointed to learn she had asked the agency to be reassigned two full weeks before they felt the need to share that information with us. During that period she created an incredible mess; incorrect postings, duplicate payments and from what we surmise - throwing her mail away. We are still making corrections. We recently hired a full-time and a part-time employee who I am confident will be great hires.


I cancelled my gym membership and joined Jazzercise. With my increased work-load I was no longer able to attend the fitness classes I enjoyed at my old gym. Feeling depressed and lethargic, I asked a former gym member how she was liking Jazzercise. She loved it and invited me to a class. Impressed with the class variety, schedule, fitness instructors, location and the price (I receive a discount through my medical insurance) I joined and am back to working out consistently.


Since my last post I finished reading Isabelle Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. I had an “aha moment” when Wilkerson mentioned of the three lives she followed for the great migration she considered Ida Mae the happiest. Ida Mae also lived the longest. Instead of living with regrets or trying to be someone she was not she accepted who she was and lived in the moment. I have spent years living in the future – retired, self-employed or anywhere but at work. This book inspired me to read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. Both books helped pull me out of my workplace funk and back to a more balanced state mind.

Travel the World in Books read-a-thon: The Travel the World in Book's team has chosen October 18-31st for this year’s read-a-thon. I’m already compiling a list of books and have chosen Rosemary Sullivan's book Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva as my first read. Stay tuned for more information on the read-a-thon and our challenge.

Dog Update:
Buck, our golden retriever, was diagnosed with lymphoma earlier this year. After deciding against chemotherapy, our vet prescribed a steroid regimen and told us to begin preparing for his demise. After a rocky couple of months, I am happy to report yesterday was Buck’s 12th birthday. We celebrated with lots of photos and birthday treats. He seemed to enjoy himself and now when someone says the word birthday he stands by the treat jar.

In the spirit of a friend’s resent trip to Tuscany we watched Under the Tuscan Sun last night. This was one of those rare instances where I enjoyed the movie more than the book. The movie is quite different in that Francis is portrayed as single while in actuality she is married and bought the home in Tuscany with her husband.

Have you ever taken a lengthy break from blogging? Did you miss it? What brought you back?

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World

Motivation for Reading:
I received an advance copy of Megan Feldman Bettencourt's book Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving Worldin exchange for an honest review.

What is Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World about?
At age 33, Megan Feldman Bettencourt was struggling to pay her bills and reeling from yet another break-up. Her feelings of disillusionment, pain, and anger seemed completely justified to her. Then she met Azim. Azim had forgiven the man who killed his only son, and even befriended the killer’s family. Compelled by this amazing story, Megan set out to understand our capacity to forgive. 

In Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving  Megan searches for what it means to forgive. The journey takes her from recovered addicts who restarted their lives by seeking forgiveness, to a Baltimore principal who used forgiveness techniques to eradicate violence in her school, to genocide survivors in Rwanda who forgave the people who killed their families. Along the way, practicing forgiveness alters Megan’s life in ways she never expected.

My Thoughts:
Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another self-help book especially one about forgiveness, but the book seemed to fit the reading projects I’ve been working on: to become a stronger person and to be savvier, so I decided to accept the advance copy. I am so glad I did. 

Triumph of the Heart is more than a self-help book, it is a beautifully written study of forgiveness. Many of us have difficulty forgiving or letting go of past grievances. In an attempt to understand and forgive her own grudges, Feldman examines others who were able to forgive; the daughter who forgives her father who raped her as a young girl, a man forgives the murderer of his son, a husband forgives his cheating spouse and Rwandan genocide survivors who forgave the people who killed their families are just a few.

Here is a sampling of what I learned:
- It's hard to be ruminating about how someone hurt you or disappointed you 10 years ago, or five years ago or one year ago when you're being mindful.

- Everyone is dealing with something. We have to remember that we never know what people are dealing with and why they're acting a certain way. For the most part, people are doing the best they can with what they have.

- When we are angry with our enemy and in the midst of an adrenaline rush we just want to be right and have difficulty slowing down to understand their side of the story.

-The forgiveness process is similar to the grief process; both aim for acceptance and vary in duration and intensity for each person.

Many of the people Feldman profiled would go on to channel their forgiveness into create a better world.

I found Chantal Nimugire, who suffered horrific loses, abuse and betrayal during the Rwandan genocide, to be inspiring: 
For eighteen years I was healing and having memories of genocide, but after I forgave, I began to share my story and become passionate about advocating for women who suffered rape and sexual abuse. She recently began speaking to groups of widows through AVEGA, making an effort to inspire and support women who lost their husbands and children to the genocide. She’s determined to take a stand against rape as a tool of war, whether in nearby Congo and Sedan or around the world.

“We have to stand up and speak out. We have to demand a better world.” (pg. 178)
Bottom line:
Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World is a beautiful well researched book. If you have an interest in learning more about forgiveness I recommend reading this book.

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Was My Neighbor Entitled to a Referral Discount?

My husband recently received an estimate from a tree service contractor to remove a dead tree from our yard.  Apprehensive of the low quote, he asked for local references.  The contractor had plenty; not only had he removed and pruned trees for one of our neighbors, but a second neighbor had hired him after observing his work.

There was a minor glitch to this story:

After the first neighbor* witnessed the contractor working on the second neighbor’s property he demanded a huge referral discount be applied to his bill.  The contractor refused stating the discount was too deep and he’d lose money on the job. Our neighbor then withheld payment for three months until the contractor finally agreed to a discount – not as much as the neighbor initially asked for, but still excessive according to the contractor.         

Did my neighbor deserve a referral discount?

I’m going to side with the contractor on this one.  My neighbor never actually did anything other than hire the contractor to work on his own property.  He didn’t give the second neighbor the contractor’s name or provide a reference.  The second neighbor approached the contractor while observing his work on the first neighbor’s property.  In my opinion, I don't think he deserved a discount.

My husband thinks the contractor should have demanded payment immediately upon completion of the work rather than giving our neighbor terms. After receiving payment, he should have told him he was going to be working for his neighbor and handed him a token $10 Starbucks or Home Depot gift card as a courtesy. 

*On a side note, this isn’t the first story I've heard about this neighbor refusing to pay a bill.

How about you – do you think my neighbor deserved a referral discount?  Have you ever received a referral discount or finder's fee? If so, what was the situation?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Becoming Savvy at 53

Tomorrow is my 53rd birthday.  I like setting goals on my birthday; my New Year's resolutions are usually long forgotten, so my birthday is a good time to reassess and come up with new goals for the remainder of the year.

While brainstorming goals for this year, I reread my birthday post from last year. I had a little chuckle over the title, “Career Reinvention at 52,” thinking that didn’t work out so well. But as I read the post, I realized every word still applies to my life today except my retirement goal has been pushed out another year.  I still work too much – probably more this year than last as I struggled to find at adequate replacement after my employee resigned.  My workouts became fewer and fewer until I dropped my gym membership altogether and my diet has gotten worse. The good news is my company has approved an additional hire for my department, so hopefully my work load will improve in the future.

I would still like to retire early from my job and spend my time doing something more rewarding.  My plan last year was to follow James Altucher's The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Reinventing Yourself. He says it takes five years to reinvent yourself.  Here is his recommended five-year plan:
  • Year One: you’re flailing and reading everything and just starting to DO.
  • Year Two: you know who you need to talk to and network with. You’re Doing every day. You finally know what the monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors.
  • Year Three: you’re good enough to start making money. It might not be a living yet.
  • Year Four: you’re making a good living
  • Year Five: you’re making wealth
In my 52nd year, I planned to read everything and start to Do.  Altucher claims reading 200-500 books are equal to one good mentor.  I finished 19 books last year and have to admit many of them were largely forgettable, so as I begin my 53rd year I am still at step one of the reinvention cycle.    I’ve always been a late bloomer, so for my 53rd year my goal is to

Become “savvier.”  I plan to do this by continuing my goal to read 200-500 books.  Only I hope to pick better books.

I am also adding Altucher’s suggestion to get your idea muscle in shape.  To do this he recommends coming up with 10 ideas a day.  As you do this the muscle will grow, you will be able to come up with more ideas and the ideas will get better.

What books have helped you become savvier?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Racism in My Community

I wrote at the beginning of the year, I’m considering rebranding this blog. One of the topics I’ve contemplated is “becoming Savvy” or “getting a clue.” I came up with the idea after reading an interview with Susan Jane Gilman where she describes her book Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Cluelessas a series of essays on getting a clue about her naivet√©.

I am the queen of naivet√©. I grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin where the only sources I had for learning about the outside world were school, church, television – only CBS though since our reception couldn’t pick up NBC or ABC - and from books. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until later in adult life I realized these sources usually presented an ideal or white-washed version of the real world. 

While listing topics for my new “Getting a Clue Blog, racism along with feminism are always at the top of the list. It was rare for me to encounter people who weren’t white in my community during the 60’s and 70’s. The one and only time I remember seeing someone with darker skin was while visiting a nearby town with my Grandma. We were sitting in her car on a sweltering July day (probably waiting for my Dad to return from the feed store) when she said, “Quick roll up the windows and duck down. There are colored folks over there who’ll steal from us if they see you” I remember doing what she said, but only after sneaking a peek at this man and his son.

I learned about the civil rights movement in social studies and was taught God loves everyone equally at church. I believed our country had moved on from racism and that my Grandma was an anomaly. She was old, didn’t get out much and didn’t know better. In the eighties I went to see the film Mississippi Burning and was reassured the world had changed and my country had moved on from all that. 

That was until a few years ago, before the Trevon Martin incident. I was relaying bad news from a company I work with to a respected member of my community. This person is an educated, religious, wealthy, older white male. Upon hearing my news, he went into a rage swearing and spewing hatred towards every person he had ever dealt with at this company, even referring to a former employee of this company with a racial slur.

I was shocked. I stood there completely tongue-tied unable to believe my ears. I had been wrong. When this man singled out a person of color with the “n” word I realized not only did racism still exist, but I was looking right at it. This man may think he's good at hiding it, but racism and hatred are alive in his psyche. 

I was reminded of him this week as I read numerous articles and blog posts discussing how racism continues to be a huge problem in our society; in response to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Racism is not a topic I can easily write about. I feel I don’t know enough about it to write truthfully and intelligently. But I can tell you this, racism does exist and is more prevalent than I thought possible. It exists not just in our segregated cities and in the south. It is in the north, in our suburban communities, in our places of employment, in our churches, our charities, and our families. I would like to think the children of the man I spoke to above would have been appalled and embarrassed if they had heard his words, but I will never know for sure.

Another key element of my “Becoming Savvy” blog is to write about books that have made me a more informed person. A book I’ve been meaning to read for this project is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.

Mocha Mama, one of my favorite bloggers covering racism, writes:
There aren't many books that I would recommend be a part of a mandated curriculum in teaching History (because there are a great many to be sure) but one that I cannot stop thinking about is Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. It is remarkable in scope and one cannot help but consider that movement, The Great Migration, in shaping cities and labor issues and the construction of what came to be known as the ghetto and the gentrification of those cities later on in history. Wilkerson herself has called that Migration "the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.

I plan to read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration next month. Will you join me?
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Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to Pay off Your Parent’s Mortgage?


My Parents divorced when my Mom was 55. One of the first things she did after securing full-time employment was to purchase a condo. Despite refinancing her mortgage for a more favorable interest rate (than the outrageous balloon she originally incurred) and a shorter mortgage term she still owed $60,000 of principle when she was forced to retire at age 75. She quickly discovered with almost no accumulated savings, making ends meet on a fixed income with a mortgage was difficult.

My siblings and I began discussing how we could assist her in paying off her mortgage, then recoup our investment when she eventually sold it.

My mom met with an elder care lawyer to discuss deeding her condo to her children. I knew it had become more difficult to transfer property since President Bush had signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (this Act increased Medicaid’s look back period from three years to five), but was surprised when the lawyer flat out refused to help us. She said with my mom having virtually no savings she would be ineligible for Medicaid for the next five years until every penny of equity transferred to us had been paid to her nursing home. What if her children couldn’t come up with this money? She refused to put my mom in that situation. 

We asked, “What if my mom doesn’t need nursing home care in the next five years?”
The lawyer didn’t care, she felt my mom’s condo equity should remain with my mom to cover her long term care or other expenses whenever they may occur. The discussion was over.

$60,000 split four ways was too great of an expense for my siblings and I to handle. There were spouses and grand-children to consider, child-care expenses and our own mortgages; $15,000 was a lot of money to hand over to your mother-in-law with no guarantee of ever getting it back. We explored other options such as selling the condo and having my mom rent or live with one of us, but she wasn’t ready for that. Plus, monthly rental payments cost almost as much as her mortgage expense. Instead, my brother reviewed all of her bills and cut every unnecessary expense. It literally made us sick to see how she had been taken advantage of over the years by cable companies, insurance agents, car repairmen, investment advisors, etc. When he finished her monthly expenses were manageable.
Her condo will be paid off next February and I’m confident she’ll make it.

I was reminded of my mom’s mortgage when my husband and I met with a Wisconsin title employee last week. As the representative was going over our mortgage paperwork she said something about it not being a good idea for our children to make our loan payments. Instead, she recommended they refinance the mortgage in their own names if they wanted to make payments.

After the closing was over, I asked her to explain what she meant about children refinancing the mortgage in their own names and if this was the preferred method for a child to pay off their parent’s mortgage.

She actually recommended children not pay off their parent’s mortgage and if needed do so only if:
- A written agreement was drafted by a lawyer and signed by the parent and the child prior to the child making any payments.

- All siblings were aware of the agreement and a written repayment plan was discussed and agreed upon by all siblings.

- Every mortgage payment was made with a paper trail. Never give a parent cash to make a payment.

She knows of several children (including herself) who paid mortgages and other expenses on behalf of their parents assuming they would be reimbursed from their parent’s estate only to have these repayments disputed by siblings. Lawyers were involved, the child was never reimbursed and the siblings no longer speak to each other.

Her bottom line advice on how to pay off your parent’s mortgage:

Don’t do it.

Have you or your siblings paid expenses on behalf of your parents? Has it been a favorable experience?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Switching my Goal to Financial Independence

This week a 60-year old asked me, “How much money do you think the average couple needs to retire?”  I answered 1.2 million.

That was the number I had initially come up with for myself last fall when my husband decided to retire at the end of 2014.  The initial plan was for me to join him in retirement when our total liquid assets reached 1 million.  I added the $200,000 to cover taxes on our 401(k) distributions after hearing horror stories from a couple that didn’t plan for taxes on their 401(k) money.

The 60-year old has been asking this question to everyone he knows.  Most answers fall between $1 and $2 million.  For himself, he thinks he and his wife need between $3 and $4 million. His plan is to retire at 63.  He recently bought a condo in Florida on a golf course where he will spend the winters. He will sell his home in Wisconsin and buy a condo here where he will live in the summers.  His only hobby is golf.  He can play for free at his Florida condo.  His company offers retiree health care and he will receive a pension.

$3 to $4 million!  If that is what a couple needs to retire comfortably I will never be able to retire. 

Which is why I am changing my goal from retiring early to financial independence.  In addition to saving for retirement, I am going to spend the next 5-6 years building an alternative income stream to supplement our retirement funds.

In other news, I had to let my temp go last week for underperformance and am starting over on Monday with a new employee.  My boss told me not to count on having much of a summer…

Financial independence is looking very attractive right now.  What steps are you doing to create financial independence?

Also, how much money do you think the average couple needs to retire?